Monday, October 31, 2011

Monsterthon: Island of Lost Souls

Criterion Island of Lost Souls cover and Amazon Link

Happy Halloween! To cap this Monsterthon off on an appropriately scary note, we're going old school.

Genre fandom is sort of an incubator for critical appreciation. Metropolis was hailed as a masterpiece by sci-fi fans (including fan guru Forrest J. Ackerman) long before mainstream criticism did so. Island of Lost Souls seems to have taken a similar course; growing up, reading books on horror and sci-fi films, I was led to believe it was a well-regarded classic of the genre, but as late as the seventies, when psychotic killers and demonic possessions were the order of the day, it was considered something vulgar and trashy, and a minor film in comparison to other classics of the era. It's taken decades in the public domain and finally, a Criterion release to move from a cult item to a proper place in the horror canon.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Monsterthon: Godzilla vs. Hedorah

Godzilla vs. Hedorah DVD cover and Amazon link

Let's jump ahead to something more horrific. Godzilla vs. Hedorah, once released in the US as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, came at a dark time for the Godzilla franchise, with the passing of Eiji Tsubaraya and the general collapse of the Japanese film industry, which had an especially harsh impact on the budgets of kaiju and other effects-driven movies. Intended to kick off a new generation of Godzilla movies, with a new director and new, more kid-friendly attitude, Godzilla vs. Hedorah ended up being a strange, surrealistic experience. It is, frankly, insane, defying any expectation of what a Godzilla movie should be and playing by a set of rules it just made up. There's never been a Godzilla film like it before or since, and the results are goofy, atmospheric, and kinda creepy.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Monsterthon: Mothra Vs. Godzilla

DVD cover and Amazon link

Godzilla's bout with King Kong was a major box office draw, really giving birth to the Godzilla series proper by showing he was no passing fad. But for his next fight he needed another lofty opponent, and so Toho called up its second-biggest draw to give us Mothra vs. Godzilla. This particular entry is a fan favorite, showing Godzilla at his meanest and most relentless, Mothra at her bravest and most selfless, and still treating the whole affair with some degree of seriousness. Though it's not my favorite of the period, Mothra vs. Godzilla does what it sets out to do and makes us believe without reservation in an epic life-or-death struggle between a radioactive dinosaur and a giant bug.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Frasierquest 4.12: Death and the Dog

Dr. Arnold Shaw: What do you imagine would be human Eddie's favorite cologne?

Martin: Aqua Velva. It's a little strong but I think he can pull it off.

Daphne: Grey Flannel. I don't know why!

Frasier: Cologne? Well, actually I think he would prefer toilet water!

Niles: By the way, same answer for favorite beverage!

Wisdom comes from strange places. Sitcom episodes are rarely known for it, but Frasier's just a little more thoughtful than the average, and while I'm not sure anything it's ever said would qualify as philosophically profound, "Death and the Dog" casts a familiar problem in an interesting light. Sometimes we just feel bad for no reason, and sometimes we look for reasons to feel bad. The fragile nature of our emotional states is the subject for an episode that's hilarious, poignant, and yeah, kind of insightful.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monsterthon: Gamera vs. Guiron

DVD cover and Amazon link

Gamera vs. Guiron is a movie I've seen many times via Mystery Science Theater 3000, so I was looking forward to seeing the full and proper version of it. Surprisingly it's not that different an experience, even in Japanese- the film doesn't seem like it was altered much for American release, and it's short enough that it didn't need to be cut down too much in order to be riffed on. Like the film before it, it's a slight, microbudgeted affair, but seems to wear it a little better. You really have to treat it as a kids' movie, and it appeals to a child's sense of wonder even if it is goofy as all get-out.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Comics Page: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadowplague

Shadowplague cover and Amazon link

I'm not going to be the first person singing the praises of the new Dungeons & Dragons comic, but it's worth adding to the chorus. John Rogers (of Blue Beetle and Leverage fame) and Andrea DiVito have managed to be the first people to  successfully translate the tabletop fantasy game into a fun action comic. Shadowplague is a nice hardbound collection of the first major arc, and if you, like me, have been having trouble following the monthly issues, it's a great way to catch up.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Monsterthon 2011: King Kong vs. Godzilla

Link to King Kong vs. Godzilla on

This October is gonna be another month of monsters, and I'm going to concentrate on our friends the kaiju. They're not often scary, though they are awesome, and I may throw in some traditional horror stuff as time permits.

King Kong vs. Godzilla is a tough film to review because, like the original Godzilla, it exists in two versions, but with a much larger gap in quality between them. What's more, the "proper" version of the movie, the original Japanese release, is going to be inaccessible to most readers of this blog; there is no legal English-language release of it, nor is there likely to be anytime soon owing to complicated legal issues. This is the 21st century, though, so… well, I'll let you do the searching.

In any case, this is a lot of fun. Godzilla returned after a 7-year hiatus to battle the original icon of giant movie monsters in a big splashy color Tohoscope production to commemorate the studio's thirtieth anniversary, and not only did the filmmakers deliver the spectacle, they packed in a sly, satiric attitude and some jabs at the world of advertising and publicity. While Godzilla's original rampage was deadly serious business, and the follow-up a straightforward sci-fi thriller, King Kong vs. Godzilla shows Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsubaraya, and company loosening up and having a little fun with their larger-than-life superstars.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Frasierquest 4.11: Three Days of the Condo

The condo board 

Martin: Oh hi there, Mrs. Langer!

Langer: Ms.

Martin: Oh, right, Ms… (elevator doors close)… ssserable old cow.

A man's home is his castle, only it's never that simple. "Three Days of the Condo" is an interesting foray into the politics of condos, neighborhood associations, and other petty tyrannies. It's the sort of thing you'd expect Frasier to be really good at, but it wouldn't be much of a show if he did everything right. This is a broad misadventure of an episode, one that feels not terribly important to anyone involved, but, well, we're talking about a condo board.